Strategic connectivity: digitally enabled infrastructure

Digital infrastructure allows us to ‘connect’ with a service, be it to better plan a journey or removing the need to travel at all.

Our modelling shows that a realistic pathway to decarbonisation includes a highly connected transport system – one that provides better transport information to the user, enables better management of the network and supports rapid deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles.

The transformative potential of improved digital connectivity to reduce the need to travel is particularly strong in rural areas, where digital services have traditionally been poor (for example, according to Ofcom, only 44% of rural premises in England have access to 4G, compared to 87% in urban areas), yet where there is often a high reliance on journeys by private car (according to census data, 64% of residents living in the Heartland’s predominantly rural districts normally drive themselves to work, compared to an average of 55% across England and Wales).

The EEH Board recognises that funding for digital connectivity must be delivered outside of the DfT programme and will need to be secured from an alternative source before further substantive work can be commissioned.

During the period of the 2022-2025business plan, we will...

Ensure investment in digital connectivity continues to be supported as a core part ofthe region’s transport and connectivity offer (not DfT funded).

Ongoing work

Ubiquitous digital connectivity (ongoing)

EEH has worked with the Satellite Applications Catapult to develop the strategic case for achieving ubiquitous digital connectivity (UDC). Space technologies will be critical to providing future mobility solutions.

In October 2021 we wrote to the government outlining the case.

We are now looking to develop the UDC proposal in partnership with other UK regions, allowing knowledge sharing and supporting national levelling up.

The Department for Transport has been clear that any work taken forward needs to be in the context of transport and transport enabling infrastructure. EEH is keen to develop several ‘off the shelf’ demonstrator proposals that highlight the opportunity UDC brings to the transport system.

This could include improving connectivity on public transport enabling better journey experience for travellers, tracking freight goods to improve and streamline logistics operations, improving pan regional journey times though better traffic management or or enabling HGV platooning demonstrators.

Previous work

Impact of remote working (2021)

Research commissioned by England’s Economic Heartland revealed how the legacy of COVID-19 could transform capacity on the region’s roads.

It found that if people who commuted by car pre-COVID but then worked from home were to continue to do so for two days per week, 10-12% of peak hour traffic would be removed.

The modelling by City Science also shows how the impact differs across the Heartland due to differences in demographics, the sector-mix in the local economy, and the flows of specific roads.

The July 2021 launch of the report, 'Working from Home Propensity & Capacity Release', came as government ended its instruction to people to work from home if possible, following the easing of restrictions as England moved to the fourth step of the lockdown roadmap.

Prior to the pandemic just over 25% of the country’s workforce had some experience of working from home with around 12% doing so at least once per week. During the pandemic the number of days working from home quadrupled.

The new research will help inform strategic infrastructure planning throughout the region, which stretches from Swindon across to Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire down to Hertfordshire. This includes EEH’s programme of connectivity studies, starting with the Oxford-Milton Keynes and Peterborough-Northampton-Oxford corridors. EEH is also looking to engage with the business community to understand their perspectives on future working trends.

East West Rail digital spine (2021)

During 2021 we were able to secure funding to ensure that the Bicester-Bletchley section of East West Rail is built as a digital spine – providing high quality broadband and 5G access to nearby rural communities alongside passengers. Installing the digital spine during construction costs a fraction of the overall cost of East West Rail and is 90% cheaper than retro-fitting. We believe future sections of East West Rail should be delivered as digital spines as standard.

Board/ Forum papers

18022022 - Agenda Item 8 Digital Connectivity.pdf